Citation metadata

Editors: Pamela Korsmeyer and Henry R. Kranzler
Date: 2009
Publisher: Macmillan Reference USA
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 1,590 words

Document controls

Main content

Full Text: 
Page 320


Raves in the United States in the twenty-first century are similar in nature to those that emerged in the 1980s: Large parties held into the early hours of the morning characterized by loud electronic music, people socializing and dancing, and widespread substance use. While raves started out as underground parties held in clandestine locations known to the few, raving generally morphed into clubbing, which often occurs in legitimate, regulated venues attended by many people across the nation every weekend (Sanders, 2006; Hobbs et al., 2003; Thornton, 1995). No doubt underground raves still exist, and occasional super parties held in stadiums, convention centers, and open fields are billed and thought of as raves or festivals, but socializing to electronic dance music in semi-public venues while using one of a number of substances has become commonplace, another option within the leisure spectrum of many U.S. cities (Sanders, 2006; Presdee, 2000; Rojeck, 2000).

Underground raves and those who attend them are differentiated from mainstream club scenes and clubbers in terms of style, culture, musical preference, and other characteristics, but raving, festivals, clubbing, and the like in the early twenty-first century are, in the main, fundamentally commercial enterprises (Sanders, 2006; Thornton, 1995). This entry describes common forms of clubbing or raving, all of which is henceforth referred to as electronic dance parties (EDPs), so as not to confuse them with underground raves.


To be sure, not all those who attend EDPs use drugs (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2006). Certain types of drugs, collectively known as club drugs, Page 321  |  Top of Articlehowever, are commonly used at EDPs (Fendrich & Johnson, 2005). The drug ecstasy, which is often associated with MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine), in particular, has been considered ubiquitous at EDPs (Beck & Rosenbaum, 1994; Sanders, 2006; Colin & Godfrey, 1997; Redhead, 1993; Shapiro, 1999). The drug, in a similar vein to other so-called club drugs—magic (psilocybin) mushrooms, and LSD (acid)—fit with the music and overall theme of the events (Sanders, 2006). The pulse of the beat, with names like jungle, trance, hard house, and drum and bass, work with the stimulant and hallucinatory effects of these drugs and are thought to enhance the visual effects of the lasers, disco balls, and general party atmosphere created by the venue and its punters (Reynolds, 1997). Other club drugs, such as ketamine (Special K), a dissociative anesthetic widely used in veterinary practices, and GHB, a simple carbohydrate which has been used by bodybuilders as a supplement, are also associated with EDPs (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2006; Lankenau, 2006). Even the potent sedative, Rohypnol, was considered a club drug at one point (Maxwell, 2005). The uses of drugs such as powder cocaine and crystal methamphetamine (crystal) are, however, not uncommon at EDPs (Green, 2006; Kelly & Parsons, 2006; Kelly, Parsons & Brooke, 2006). Other powerful hallucinogens, known as tryptamines (DMT) and phenethylamines (2C-B), have also been reported at EDPs (Kelly, 2006; Sanders, 2006; Sanders et al., 2008). Again, both stimulants and hallucinogens work with the overall atmosphere produced at EDPs. If club drugs are those drugs used within such venues, then other substances fall in this category.

Individuals who use drugs are thought of marijuana users, heroin users, ecstasy users, and the like. These terms may capture particular drug consumption patterns. However, at EDPs, many individuals use multiple drugs, either sequentially or simultaneously (Lankenau & Clatts, 2005; Kelly, Parsons, & Wells, 2006; Klein, Sterk, & Elifson, 2006; Sanders, 2006). People attending EDPs are likely to use several substances over the course of the event, as opposed to sticking with one. Moreover, alcohol is prominent since many EDPs are held in venues that sell alcohol (Measham & Brain, 2005). The following example certainly does not apply to all who attend EDPs, but it does provide some insight into the potential for using a variety of substances while attending an event.

This example is derived from a slightly altered amalgamation of several ethnographic accounts of drug consumption at EDPs in the United States (Green, 2006; Navarez, 2001; Perrone, 2006). Friends meet up at a bar around 10 p.m. for a couple drinks. An hour later, they go to an EDP. Prior to entering the venue, they smoke a little cannabis. They enter the EDP buzzing from the alcohol and cannabis mixture. Around 12:30, they decide to take an ecstasy pill. Alcohol is sold in the venue, and these individuals decide to have a few drinks during their three-hour ecstasy high. At 3:30 a.m., their ecstasy buzz is wearing off, but the party does not stop for another couple of hours. Fortunately, they brought cocaine and crystal with them, and each sniffs a small amount of trail mix, a combination of both drugs. The trail mix keeps them going until 7 a.m., and when the party stops, they rally to a friend's house for a chillout session. To help them comedown from the ecstasy, cocaine, and crystal, they smoke some more cannabis, and have a few drinks. Despite the alcohol and strong, hydroponically grown cannabis, the trail mix keeps them going for a bit longer than expected. As a remedy, each takes a Vicodin prior to going to bed sometime in the late morning, 12 hours after they first headed out.


Individuals who attend EDPs are part of the work-force and attend EDPs in order to release tension and stress after a week's work (Green, 2006; Perrone, 2006; Sanders, 2006). These youth, in the main, lead normal, productive lives. Youth who attend EDPs en masse are not outlaws, not drug-crazed addicts, and evidence generally does not indicate that such individuals are more prone to crime and delinquency than their non-attending EDP counterparts (Sanders, 2006). To be clear, many punters may be chemically addicted and/or suffer from serious health problems related to their substance use, and accounts of overdose or drug-related negative health outcomes or death do occur at or around EDPs. But substance use consumption patterns among punters at EDPs appear largely recreational, and the youth who attend these events, in the main, have meaningful lives (Green, 2006; Perrone, 2006). These youth have generally not opted out of society and are not the Page 322  |  Top of Articledouble failures as drug users were described generations ago (Cloward & Ohlin, 1960; Merton, 1957). Attendees at EDPs may be considered part of a broadly defined subculture to the extent that they enjoy similar forms of music, have a tolerance for drug use, and like to socialize during the early morning hours. However, beyond these preferences, such youth are remarkably different from one another and do not constitute a segment of the population otherwise distinct from everyone else (Presdee, 2000; Rojeck, 2000; Sanders, 2006; Thornton, 1995).

Criminal justice and public health reactions to EDPs are at odds with one another: The former seeks to curtail drug use at EDPs through sanctions and prosecution, whereas the latter attempts to make substance use safer for the evening's punters (Sanders, 2006). Dancesafe, for instance, is an organization largely run by those who enjoy EDPs. Dancesafe has offered pill-testing services by providing punters with testing kits in order to have their ecstasy tablets checked for content. Among other activities, Dancesafe has set up small booths in or around EDPs in order to provide information about drugs commonly used within such venues. While pill testing may be “harm minimization gone too far” (Winstock, Wolf, & Ramsey, 2005), it represents a unique public health approach towards reducing the potential of adverse affects related to recreational youthful substance use.

The contrast there is opposition to illicit substance use at EDPs. In 2002, for instance, the R.A.V.E Act was introduced (R.A.V.E stood for Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy). The act would make it illegal to use illicit drugs on venue premises, and if anyone was caught doing so, the owner and manager of the venue, and the night's promoters, as well as the offending punter, could all be subject to criminal prosecution. While the RAVE Act was never passed, its central tenets were incorporated into another bill—the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003—that eventually became law. The difficulty is in effectively policing this law (Measham, Alrdridge, & Parker, 2001). If EDPs are subject to closure as a consequence of one punter using illicit drugs inside the venue, then EDPs are surely doomed. Substance use—whether illicit or not—is common at most EDPs and may be seen as normalized within such settings (Measham et al., 2001). Shutting down illicit substance use at EDPs threatens their existence. This, in turn, not only jeopardizes a multi-million-dollar-a-year industry but may also serve to push EDPs further underground, away from regulated nightclubs and venues. If this occurs, then punters may become unnecessarily exposed to the public health hazards of clandestine EDP locations (Sanders, 2006).

The future of EDPs in the United States is not known. Youth at EDPs are exposed to a broad range of illicit substances, and, regardless of whether they decide to use them or not, most wake up the following morning and get on with their (largely) law-abiding lives. Substance-using youth may get caught in the legal system, which, in turn, can detrimentally affect the remainder of their lives. If attending EDPs and using drugs may be part of a fad or fashion that many youth pass through, then people need to think carefully about their responses to these criminal aspects of their otherwise productive, respectable and obedient young lives.

See also Club Drugs; Cocaine; Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) and Psychedelics; Marijuana (Cannabis); MDMA; Media; Methamphetamine; Music; Psilocybin; Rohypnol.


Beck, J., & Rosenbaum, M. (1994). Pursuit of ecstasy: The MDMA experience. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Cloward, R., & Ohlin, L. (1960). Delinquency and opportunity: A theory of delinquent gangs. London: Collier-Macmillan.

Collin, M., & Godfrey, J. (1997). Altered state: The story of ecstasy culture and acid house. London: Serpent's Tail.

Degenhardt, L., Copeland, J., & Dillion, P. (2005). Recent trends in the use of club drugs: An Australian review. Substance Use and Misuse, 40, 1241–1256.

Fendrich, M., & Johnson, T. P. (2005). Editors' introduction (special issue on club drug epidemiology). Substance Use and Misuse, 40, 1179–1184.

Green, A. I. (2006). “Chem friendly”: The institutional basis of club drug use in a sample of urban gay men. In B. Sanders (Ed.), Drugs, clubs, and young people: Sociological and public health perspectives (pp. 67–76). Aldershot, Hampshire, England: Ashgate.

Page 323  |  Top of Article

Hobbs, D., Hadfield, P., Lister, S., & Winlow, S. (2003). Bouncers: Violence and governance in the night-time economy. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Kelly, B. C. (2006). Conceptions of risk in the lives of ecstasy-using youth. In B. Sanders (Ed.), Drugs, clubs and young people: Sociological and public health perspectives (pp. 50–66). Aldershot, Hampshire, England: Ashgate.

Kelly, B. C., & Parsons, J. T. (2006, November). Resurgence of cocaine among club-going young adults. Paper presented at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, Boston.

Kelly, B. C., Parsons, J. T., & Wells, B. E. (2006). Prevalence and predictors of club drug use among club-going young adults in New York City. Journal of Urban Health, 83(5), 884–895.

Klein, H. A., Elifson, K. W., & Sterk, C. E. (2006, November). “Garbage Heads”: High-end polydrug abusing ecstasy users and their involvement in HIV risk behaviors. Paper presented at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, Boston.

Lankenau, S. E. (2006). On ketamine: In and out of the k hole. In B. Sanders (Ed.), Drugs, clubs and young people: Sociological and public health perspectives (pp. 77–87). Aldershot, Hampshire, England: Ashgate.

Lankenau, S. E., & Clatts, M. C. (2005). Patterns of poly-drug use among ketamine injectors in New York City. Substance Use and Misuse, 40, 1381–1398.

Maxwell, J. C. (2005). Party drugs: Properties, prevalence, patterns, and problems. Substance Use and Misuse, 40, 1203–1240.

Measham, F. (2004). The decline of ecstasy, the rise of binge drinking and the persistence of pleasure. Probation Journal, Special Edition: Rethinking drugs and crime, 51(4), 309–326.

Measham, F., Aldridge, J., & Parker, H. (2001). Dancing on drugs: Risk, health, and hedonism in the British club scene. London: Free Association Books.

Measham, F., & Brain, K. (2005). Binge drinking, British alcohol policy, and the new culture of intoxication. Crime, Media, Culture: An International Journal, 1(3), 262–283.

Merton, R. K. (1957). Social theory and social structure (Revised and enlarged ed.), London: Glencoe Free Press.

Narvaez, R. (2001, July). MDMA in combination: Trail mix and other powdered drug combinations. Paper presented at MDMA/Ecstasy Research: Advances, Challenges, Future, Bethesda, MD.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2006). NIDA Info Facts: Club drugs. National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of ealth and Human Services. Available from http://www.nida.nih.gov/ .

Perrone, D. (2006). New York City club kids: A contextual understanding of club drug use. In B. Sanders (Ed.) Drugs, clubs and young people: Sociological and public health perspectives (pp. 26–49). Aldershot, Hampshire, England: Ashgate.

Presdee, M. (2000). Cultural criminology and the carnival crime. London: Routledge.

Redhead, S. (1993). The politics of ecstasy. In Rave off: Politics and deviance in contemporary youth culture (pp. 7–28). Aldershot, Hampshire, England: Avebury.

Reynolds, S. (1997). Rave culture: Living dream or living death? In S. Redhead (Ed.) with D. Wynne & J. O'Connor, The club-cultures reader: Readings in popular cultural studies. Oxford, England: Blackwell.

Rojek, C. (2002). Leisure and culture. London: Macmillan.

Sanders, B. (2006). Young people, clubs, and drugs. In B. Sanders (Ed.), Drugs, clubs, and young people: Sociological and public health perspectives (pp. 1–12). Alder-shot, Hampshire, England: Ashgate.

Sanders, B., Lankenau, S. E, Jackson Bloom, J., & Hathazi, D. (2008). ‘Research chemicals’: Tryptamine and phenethylamine use amongst high-risk youth. Substance Use and Misuse, 43(3), 389–402.

Shapiro, H. (1999). Dances with drugs: Pop music, drugs and youth culture. In N. South (Ed.), Drugs: Cultures, controls and everyday life (pp. 17–35). London: Sage.

Thornton, S. (1995). Club cultures: Music, media, and subcultural capital. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Winstock, A. R., Wolff, K., & Ramsey, J. (2001). Ecstasy pill testing: Harm minimization gone too far? Addiction, 96, 1139–1148.


Source Citation

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
"Rave." Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol & Addictive Behavior, edited by Pamela Korsmeyer and Henry R. Kranzler, 3rd ed., vol. 3, Macmillan Reference USA, 2009, pp. 320-323. Gale Health and Wellness, https%3A%2F%2Flink.gale.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FCX2699700391%2FHWRC%3Fu%3Dmnkanokahs%26sid%3DHWRC%26xid%3D7a434322. Accessed 13 Dec. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2699700391